SAULT STE. MARIE - Sprung by two goals from sophomore Anthony Nellis, Lake Superior State defeated Upper Peninsula rivals, Northern Michigan 3-2 Friday night in their Western Collegiate Hockey Association series opener.
The Lakers (9-11-1, 6-8-1-0 WCHA) snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) and picked up their first conference win since defeating Bowling Green 4-2 at home on December 2, while the Wildcats (4-17-2, 2-12-1 WCHA) have now lost five straight and have just one victory in their last 10 games (1-8-1) . The victory also gives the Lakers an early 1-0-0 advantage in the Cappo Cup rivalry series, which will be determined over this weekend and next weekend(Jan. 13-14), as the teams play consecutive home-and-home series.
It took LSSU just 4:34 into the opening stanza to find the game's first goal as Nellis picked up his sixth goal and 12th point of the season on a feed from juniors J.T. Henke (6-12--18) and Ryan Renz (0-1--1). Henke, bringing the puck up the right side on a 3-on-2 rush, put the puck behind the NMU defenseman for a centering pass that Nellis was able to chip up and over the shoulder of Atte Tolvanen.
Both teams received one power-play opportunity during the first period, however, neither were able to cash in and the Lakers took a 1-0 lead and 9-8 advantage in shots into the first intermission.
Early into the second period, it was once again Nellis finding the net for his second goal of the night, again assisted by J. T. Henke on another perfect one-timer feed. Nellis collected the puck off his skate in the slot and fired it over the shoulder of Tolvanen who was screened by a pair of Wildcats and LSSU freshman Luke Morgan in front.
The pair of goals by Nellis marks the second time this season the native of Breakeyville, Que., has scored two goals in a game. Nellis last accomplished the feat on Oct. 22, after a 5-2 road victory over Alabama-Huntsville.
With 4:15 remaining in the middle period, LSSU scored their third and final goal of the night on a tremendous solo effort by sophomore Diego Cuglietta playing mop up duty in front of the net. Following a Brayden Gelsinger shot from the right faceoff circle; Cuglietta gathered the rebound, threw a shot at Tolvanen, collected his own rebound and backhanded the puck away for his team-leading ninth goal and his second power-play goal of the season. The goal would prove to be the eventual game-winner, Cuglietta's third game-winning goal this season.
Gelsinger (5-8--13) now has an assist in consecutive games for LSSU and sophomore Jake Hand also added his third assist of the season on the goal by Cuglietta.
The Wildcats struck back before the end of the second period, however, and cut the lead to 3-1 with four seconds remaining in the second period. Following a Matt McArdle penalty for interference with six seconds left in the period, Sami Salminen won the draw for NMU, directly back to a ready-and-waiting Brock Maschmeyer for a one-timer power-play goal off of the faceoff.
Dominik Shine later added his team-leading ninth to draw NMU within 3-2 with 6:46 remaining in regulation from linemates Shane Sooth and Demico Hannoun.
With 1:29 remaining the Wildcats pulled Tolvanen for the extra attacker but were turned away in the waning moments.
LSSU goaltender Gordon Defiel picked up the win and drew his individual record to 9-9-1 on the season with a 23-save effort. Tolvanen (3-17-2) was tagged with the loss for NMU after making 22 saves on 25 shots.
The teams resume the Cappo Cup rivalry series Saturday (Jan. 7) from Berry Events Center in Marquette, Mich. Next weekend the teams meet for another home-and-home series with NMU hosting Friday's (Jan. 13) game and the Lakers at home on Saturday (Jan. 14).